Even by U.S. government standards (not a high one these days), the State Department’s budget process is a mess.
In almost every budget cycle, billions and billions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars get allocated to the State Department in the last minute without proper congressional debate or substantive hearings.
As a consequence, opaqueness and bureaucratic confusion characterizes the agency that runs U.S. embassies and its diplomatic corps, conducts international negotiations, oversees international aid, pursues arms control negotiations, and funds U.S. international broadcasting, membership in international organizations, refugee policy, and much besides.
To their credit, House Republicans are trying to do something about this indefensible state of affairs. The House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 26 announced plans to start work on a State Department Authorization Bill for fiscal year (FY) 2013.
Over the past 15 years, only twice have State Department Authorization bills made it to the President’s desk and gotten signed into law—once under Bill Clinton (FY 1994–1995) and once under George W. Bush (FY 2002–2003). It has never happened under Barack Obama.
Other attempts were made in FY 1998–1999, FY 2004–2005, and FY 2005–2006, and they either never made it to the President’s desk or were vetoed. The latter was the case of FY 1998–1999, when the bill actually contained a major reorganization of U.S. agencies such as the U.S. Information Agency and the Agency for Disarmament.
State Department operations obviously do somehow get funded, even in the absence of an authorization bill. This happens through the appropriations process that takes place every fall, with 12 giant funding bills written by the congressional appropriations committees. In this process, State used to be lumped together with the Departments of Justice and Commerce. In other words, the appropriations process is no time for finesse, hearings, or deliberation on policy priorities.
Kudos to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its chairman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for taking seriously its responsibility in writing the U.S. budget. This kind of budget and policy coordination is sorely missed in today’s Washington.